The Gate Crasher: Waitress in Distress

The Gate Crasher turns turkish for a night

On The Town | Cristina Rotaru | November 2011

"How would you like to make a couple hundred tonight?"

I mused, and then looked left, frowning at my companion. She opened her eyes wide and with a grimace of firm conviction, she gave nothing away. Damn it, Esma, every time!

"Certainly," I responded with a smile as I turned back in confidence to the plucky Turkish man who had posed the question. His bracelets and general "bling" rattled in anticipation, he was expecting an answer. I took a deep breath. "What do I have to do?"

Believing myself prepared for anything, I figured I’d roll with the punches. This was naïve. How on earth was I going to convince a crowd that I was as Turkish as they were? Sure, the event could be over in a half hour, an hour tops, if everything went smoothly.  True, Esma and I were also the only girls serving, among a herd of Turkish machos. The real issue, however, was that we had to take orders from hundreds of hungry Turks – and actually understand what it is they wanted to eat and drink. But still, how hard could that be?

"And you’ve catered before?" Mr. Bling was still sceptical.

"Certainly," I lied even less convincingly than before. It was really a lost cause, but I had come so far already, and I just decided: in for a penny, in for a pound!

The group was from the estranged community of Alevi Turks, who were shunned from Turkey in the 1970s because of their libertine views. So they hopped aboard the Occident Express and sought refuge elsewhere. And it just so happens that most ended up in Austria. In fact, the major assemblage of Alevites is now the Federation of the Unions of Alevites in Austria, who just happened to be hosting a reception in Leopoldau in October. Their faith differs from Sunni and Orthodox Shiite Islam, which also goes for the Alevite appearance and behaviour – women do not wear headscarves (except around their hips), they’re quite loud and drink like fish. But all this I was about to find out the hard way.

The job should have been easy. All I had to do was act chill and pretend I was one of them. Easy enough, with my vast knowledge of Turkish character and thorough understanding of body language, I would surely go unnoticed. Repeat after me: "bira," "raki," "mezze." Focus, focus, focus …

"What’s he saying, what’s he saying?" I heard myself asking Esma every five seconds, as the reception manager barked out instructions and I stood there nodding my sandy head obligingly. None of my colleagues suspected I was a mole. At least not yet.

Soon the guests started arriving, and I began taking orders. First some, then dozens, then hundreds of people, children, musicians, poets and dancers stormed the scene, all high-spirited, getting louder by the minute. And these people weren’t drinking beer, like the rest of us peasants, but whiskey and vodka, Red Bull and Cachaça, imported, mega-proof distillations from distant lands. As I spilled the first drink into someone’s lap, I shuddered and felt my energy draining away. How much of this charade before I was going to crack? I dreamed of my next cigarette break.

But, seriously, what was I doing here?

"Move your ass, canim (Turkish for "love"), or else you’re not getting any tip," someone said whilst touching my shoulder. "That’s no tip, you old perv!" I thought, and quickly swallowed my words. "Right away, sir." I smiled. He sneered back.

The truth is this: I thought I knew what lewd meant, and lusty and lascivious for that matter, but that night proved that in fact I knew next to nothing about the norms of neighbourliness Turkey style, nor about old age nor inebriated dancing. And generally, not much of anything at all.

To be continued…

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